Many of us have complicated relationships with food. This new year let us make a pledge to eat responsibly. Here are some tips and guidelines.
“Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything. These are the secrets of happiness and good health” – I love this quote by Julia Child. She has summarised the sentiments of this write-up for me.
I wanted one of my first articles for 2021 to be about food and our relationship with it. As we begin this year on a hopeful note, wishing for life to get back to some semblance of normalcy after the turbulent 2020, let us evaluate something that is as deeply integral to our well-being as is our jobs, financial stability and sanity. Our food.
Many of us have complicated relationships with food. An alarming number of us are stress eaters, emotional eaters, binge eaters, junk eaters or any other fancy label you like. And the year that we recently bade goodbye to has probably served to aggravate our unhealthy food habits. Lockdown, limited movement, social distancing for extended periods has created a vacuum in our lives that we expect our food to fill.
Let us begin this year by evaluating, understanding and possibly amending our relationship with food for the better. To aid a better understanding of our current food habits, let us look at how traditional holistic systems have viewed food for centuries.
Yogic & Ayurvedic Perspective
As per yoga and its sister science ayurveda, we are essentially what and how we eat/ drink/consume. While food is not the only thing we consume and bring into our bodies, for the sake of this article let us stay with it. The food we choose to put into our bodies decides the fate of our physical, mental and emotional health.
Why you ask? Let us look at three of the most important perspectives they share.
1) Food and water are considered one of the biggest sources of prana/life-force energy apart from breath and sunlight. For life to function optimally, we need to bring into our systems what has life and what holds life. Think fresh, crisp, colourful, fragrant, rich, nourishing.
2) What we eat is considered to have a direct influence on our thoughts and emotions. Foods that are fresh, light, wholesome, rich in nutrients evoke a certain physical and mental response vis-à-vis foods that are greasy, heavy, frozen, canned, processed and lacking in freshness. Think “like begets like”.
3) How & when we eat the food that we eat also impacts our overall system. How consciously we eat, the thoughts we think while we eat, the attention we pay to our food as we chew, the timing of our meals – all of these play a significant part in how the food nourishes our system.
Essentially all traditional healing systems, be it ayurveda or ones that it influenced in the West had one simple thing to say which can be summed up by this famous quote by Greek physician Hippocrates, “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.”
Bearing in mind this traditional perspective, let us now look three major deviations we take from this time-tested and effective formula for health:
1. We love our processed and take-away meals. The intensity of flavours tickles our taste buds and after a long, hectic day all that matters is a delicious tasting, rich meal that will put to rest all our cravings, even if just for the time-being.
2. We eat heavy, we eat late and often time we eat stale (anything that is canned or frozen is considered devoid of prana in ayurveda). Food refrigerated for over two to three days or frozen for weeks creates major imbalances in our system that go unnoticed until the body’s hazard lights switch on. Several studies have indicated how canned, frozen, prepackaged, processed and restaurant food contain high levels of sodium, way beyond our body’s daily recommended intake, apart from also lacking in several essential vitamins and nutrients.
3. While most of us don’t like to eat in silence (also highly recommended in traditional cultures), stuffing ourselves as we watch the latest series on Netflix is another habit that is hard to let go. We barely pay attention to what we eat and how much we eat, as long as it tastes mind-numbingly good. In the process losing our connection with what our body is telling us, until it’s too late and we are utterly and completely stuffed.
Unfortunately, our work, commitments and deadlines don’t leave us much room or space to create right habits until an illness forces us to do so.
But there are some simple steps we can take to create better eating habits and reduce these deviations. These are logical and supported not just by external research but most importantly by our body’s intuitive intelligence. Outlined below are a few of these:
1) Tune in and understand your body’s needs and biorhythm. Not what your mind desires and wishes but what your body needs to function optimally. Pay attention to how you feel not just while you eat your meals but how you feel after. Bringing this simple awareness regularly will help you better understand your physiology.
2) Let the last full meal of the day be around the time the sun sets. If life doesn’t permit this luxury, eat lighter and smaller meals to avoid high glucose and cortisol levels that accompany regular late-night binge/ heavy eating. Traditional societies always made a correlation between the external sun and the corresponding fire element/agni within the body. They understood that when the fire element outside tapered off, the body’s metabolic activity naturally slowed down too. This is being increasingly corroborated by research.
3) Set a pattern for your meals. As much as possible set a time for your meals and eat consistently at that time. This way your body can predict the upcoming meal and will be ready to activate the necessary digestive juices. Don’t confuse your body by eating at 1pm one day and 4pm on another. Erratic eating can cause a stir within our digestive system and lead to multiple health issues.
4) Give your digestive system adequate rest before the next meal. Just like you need regular rest and restoration, so do your digestive organs. Avoid dumping food into your system at short intervals and over-working your organs. Eat when hungry.
5) Final piece of advice – stop gravitating between a “see food diet” and a “cucumber only diet”. Instead eat freshly prepared, warm, easy to digest and nutrient rich food. If accessing freshly prepared food everyday is challenging, combine your meals with fresh fruits (preferably before the main course) and salads so that there is some element of freshness in your diet.
As the Chinese Lin Yutang inventor, linguist and philosopher once wisely said, “Our lives are not in the lap of the gods, but in the lap of our cooks.”